power is disruptive, growing exponentially, fill in the blanks. This
is what you will believe if you spend too much time reading
optimistic articles on clean tech websites, and less time looking at
actual statistics for solar generation.
reality solar power’s heavily subsidized growth is nowhere close to
being the revolutionary force some of its advocates claim it already
is. It is also not growing exponentially, as anyone could see if they
checked the meaning of the term exponential growth and actual
statistics for year on year growth rates.
solar grew by 93% in 2011, 60% in 2012, 39% in 2013, and 38% in 2012.
Meanwhile, in the countries with the most developed solar sectors,
absolute growth has in fact slowed.
added 7.5 and 7.6 GW of new capacity in 2011 and 2012 respectively.
In 2013 and 2014 the figures had gone down to 3.3 and 1.9 GW. The
same goes for Italy, where new capacity additions went from 9.3 to
0.38 GW between 2011 and 2014.
fact, the current growth of European solar is not even vaguely
exponential. Instead, growth is declining overall. In 2011, 22.4 GW
was added throughout Europe; in 2012 17.4 GW was added, in 2013 10.4
GW was added, and in 2014 7.2 GW was added. Absolute growth of solar
capacity in Europe is now one third of what it what it was in 2011.
confidently predicting continued exponential growth of solar will
have a hard time accounting for the actual decline in growth in
of solar can be put in further perspective by comparing the annual
growth (in TWh) with the total electricity consumption of a country.
Let’s imagine that in a single year a country went from 0 to 1% of
electricity generation being from solar panels. That would mean it
would take roughly 100 years to get to 100% solar.
caveat: we don’t know what to do when the sun goes down, but you
get the thrust.
how quickly is solar growing globally? Below is a chart showing the
top 25 countries in terms of solar growth last year. Growth is
measured by comparing absolute growth of solar (in TWh) with total
electricity generation (in TWh).
1 is Greece. Now, exactly why heavily indebted Greece is number one
in the growth of a heavily subsidized source of energy generation can
be debated, but the fact remains.
importantly, no major economy is above 1%. At current rates of solar
additions they are all many many decades away from solar power taking
over. And remember: many of these countries, e.g. Germany, are now
seeing reduced rates of absolute solar additions.
in solar energy in China now attracts a lot of optimistic headlines.
However, the increase in solar energy last year represented only 0.2%
of total electricity generation. In other words, if China kept
increasing solar’s share at that rate it would take half a
millennium to get to 100% solar electricity. Keep this in mind when
you see misguided headlines about solar power having a major
influence on Chinese air pollution.
on electricity generation alone of course is problematic. The
underlying reason to switch to solar power is climate change. And the
majority of fossil fuels are not used for generating electricity, but
for heating, flying, shipping, making steel, and so on. What we
really should look at is total energy consumption.
growth of solar is much slower in terms of total primary energy
consumption. Growth in solar in 2015 was less than 0.5% of total
primary energy consumption in all major economies.
numbers should make it clear how far we are away from a solar
revolution. The figure for China and the US is 0.1%. If China and the
US added solar at a rate ten times greater than they are today, then,
it would take them a century to get to 100% solar.
Germany, where a supposed solar revolution has occurred, the figure
was 0.29%. 100% solar is a mere three centuries away in that high
latitude, cloudy country……. where the sun still goes down.